Headshot of Professor Ayten Gundogdu

Ayten Gündoğdu

Tow Associate Professor of Political Science


Political Science


Milstein 1102
On Leave in Spring 2023



Political Theory

Ayten Gündoğdu is the Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars in the Department of Political Science at Barnard College. Her research lies at the intersection of modern and contemporary European political theory, the political thought of Hannah Arendt, critical human rights studies, and international political and legal theory.

Professor Gündoğdu's research aims to rethink key political concepts such as equality, rights, sovereignty, and personhood in light of the struggles of subjects relegated to the margins of politics and law. This goal is reflected in her book, Rightlessness in an Age of Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015), which offers a critical inquiry of human rights by engaging with the works of twentieth-century political theorist Hannah Arendt and by examining the contemporary rights struggles of asylum-seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. The book presents new readings of Arendt’s key concepts (e.g., “the social,” “the right to have rights”) by rethinking them within the context of immigration detention, deportation, refugee camps, and struggles for regularization.

Professor Gündoğdu is currently at work on a new book that aims to understand the regime of impunity surrounding migrant deaths by foregrounding two key dimensions of this problem: racialized vulnerability to lethal violence at the borders of states and the complicity of law in the justification of this violence. The book develops a phenomenological analysis of migrant deaths as “forced disappearances,” borrowing a term from the human rights framework and reinterpreting it in a series of critical engagements with thinkers such as Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, and Frantz Fanon.

Professor Gündoğdu is the recipient of several awards and grants, including the Tow Professorship for Distinguished Scholars (2019-21), Heyman Center Fellowship from Columbia University (2018-19), Mellon Mid-Career Fellowship from the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University (2017-18), and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University (2011-12).

  • Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • B.A., Bogazici University, Istanbul, Turkey

  • Human rights and humanitarianism
  • Political theory of Hannah Arendt
  • Politics and ethics of migration
  • International political and legal thought
  • Modern, contemporary, and continental political theory
  • Democratic theory and theories of citizenship

You can find selected syllabi on-line.

  • POLS UN 1101 Political Theory
  • POLS BC 3410 Colloquium on Human Rights in a Diverse World (Cross-listed by the Human Rights Program, Barnard College)
  • POLS BC 3435 Colloquium on Law and Violence
  • POLS BC 3761 Senior Research Seminar in Political Theory
  • FYSB BC 1289 First-Year Seminar: Violence and Justice
  • POLS W 3002 Human Rights and Immigration
  • POLS UN 4150 Crisis and Critique: The Frankfurt School (Cross-listed by the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, Columbia University)

  • “Spectral Humanity: Border Control and the Racialized Annihilation of Plurality,” Association for Political Theory (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, November 11-13, 2021).
  • Keynote Presentation: “Border Deaths and the Crisis of Human Rights.” Conference on “Paradoxes of Universalism,” The Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives, University of Helsinki (November 4-6, 2020, online).
  • “Forced Disappearances: Critical Phenomenology at the Borders of Law and Politics,” American Political Science Association (Boston, Massachusetts, August 30 – September 2, 2018).
  • “‘The Living Space of Freedom:’ Arendt on Law and Power.” Conference on “Exile and Rightlessness: Émigré Scholars and the Birth of Human Rights Discourse,” Barnard College (New York, New York, May 2, 2019).
  • “The Nonhuman Condition: Arendt’s Worldly Phenomenology of Living Things.” Inaugural Workshop of “Arendt on Earth: From the Archimedean Point to the Anthropocene,” Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois, May 3-4, 2019).




Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants (Oxford University Press, 2015) Link

  • International Studies Association-Northeast, Yale H. Ferguson Award, 2016.
  • International Studies Association, Theory Section, Book Award Competition, Honorable Mention, 2015.
  • Included in the list of Choice “Outstanding Academic Titles” (January 2016). 

“Border Deaths as Forced Disappearances: Frantz Fanon and the Outlines of a Critical Phenomenology,” Puncta: Journal of Critical Phenomenology 5, no. 3 (2022): 12-41 (Open access)

“At the Margins of Personhood: Rethinking Law and Life Beyond the Impasses of Biopolitics,” Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory 28, no. 4 (December 2021): 570-587 (Access online)

“Borders of Human Rights: Territorial Sovereignty and the Precarious Personhood of Migrants.” In Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, ed. Birgit Schippers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).

“On the Ambivalent Politics of Human Rights,” Journal of International Political Theory (October 2018). (Access online)

“Disagreeing with Rancière: Speech, Violence, and the Ambiguous Subjects of Politics,” Polity 49, no. 2 (April 2017): 188–219 (Access online). 

“A Revolution in Rights: Reflections on the Democratic Invention of the Rights of Man,” Law, Culture and the Humanities 10, no. 3 (October 2014): 367-379 (Access online)

“Statelessness and the Right to Have Rights.” In Hannah Arendt: Key Concepts, ed. Patrick Hayden (Acumen Publishing, 2014) Link

“Potentialities of Human Rights: Agamben and the Narrative of Fated Necessity,” Contemporary Political Theory 11, no. 1 (February 2012): 2-22 (Access online)

For a longer version, see: “Potentialities of Second Nature: Agamben on Human Rights.” In Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural Through Politics, ed. Lida Maxwell, Laura Ephraim, and Crina Archer (Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 104-126. Link

“‘Perplexities of the Rights of Man’: Arendt on the Aporias of Human Rights,” European Journal of Political Theory 11, no. 1 (January 2012): 4-24 (Access online)

Reprinted in The Aporia of Rights: Explorations in Citizenship in the Era of Human Rights, ed. Anna Yeatman and Peg Birmingham (Bloomsbury, 2014) Link

“Arendt on Culture and Imperialism: Response to Klausen,” Political Theory 39, no. 5 (October 2011): 661-667 (Access online)

[Co-authored with Raymond D. Duvall and Kartik Raj] “Borders, Power and Resistance: Bounding and Challenging Europe." In Europe and Its Boundaries, ed. Andrew Davison and Himadeep Muppidi (Lexington Books, 2009), pp. 225-241. Link

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